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Arrandale And Clarkdale

Intel Developer Forum, Day Three: All About Power

On the PC front, Intel showed its upcoming 32nm dual-core CPUs running real-world applications. The company noted that the CPUs are on target to be delivered by the end of Q4. Performance of Clarkdale looked to be faster than the fastest Core 2 Duo--about 1.5x 3DMark Vantage performance (when comparing Clarkdale integrated graphics to G45 integrated graphics on the Core 2 Duo).

What’s interesting about Arrandale and Clarkdale is that they’ll have the integrated graphics on the CPU package. The CPU package will have two chips, the CPU and the Intel graphics core. The CPU will be built on the new 32nm process, while the graphics core is 45nm. Even more interesting, the dual-channel memory and PCI Express controllers are integrated onto the graphics core, not the CPU core, unlike the original Nehalem-based Core i5 and Core i7s.

As with earlier Nehalems, Turbo Boost is a part of the picture, allowing the CPUs to throttle up to impressive performance levels on lightly-threaded applications. Turbo Boost has been extended to the graphics core, too, allowing the GPU clock frequencies to crank up when more graphics horsepower is needed, as long as the overall thermal envelope of the whole CPU package remains within operational parameters.

The GPU itself has been improved by increasing clock frequencies and adding more shader units. Performance of just the graphics unit is estimated to be double the current Intel G45. We saw the Resident Evil benchmark running on Arrandale (the mobile version) at around 18-20 fps at 1280x720. So, while it won’t kill discrete graphics, the new graphics core should "suck less" than previous Intel IGPs in 3D environments.

What Intel is really aiming its integrated graphics core towards is HD video. It now supports dual-stream HD decode, so now can handle Blu-ray picture-in-picture functionality. Intel has also been working to improve the user interface of the graphics control panel. What we saw looked much improved over the existing Intel control panels, particularly if you’re a home theater video enthusiast. Videophiles now have more control over key parameters than they did previously.

Since Arrandale and Clarkdale now move the memory controller onto the CPU package (and are DDR3-exclusive), systems built on those CPUs should see substantial gains in memory bandwidth--up to 1.7x versus systems with DDR2-800 memory. Toss in Hyper-Threading support, which allows for four simultaneous threads on the two cores, and the performance will rival Core 2 Quads in the same target price. Intel didn’t divulge pricing, but compared Clarkdale to the Core 2 Quad Q9400, so it’s safe to say pricing will be under $200.

Despite the presence of integrated graphics on the CPU package, you can drop in a discrete graphics card into a Clarkdale system, which should make this a great CPU for building a budget gaming rig. Toss in enhancements from Windows 7 to make more effective use of Hyper-Threaded CPUs and you have a recipe for fairly high performance in even lower-cost machines than today's Core i5 is able to provide.

Looking Forward

As we noted on day one, Intel’s emphasis at this year’s IDF was strongly focused on small things: new mobile CPUs (Moorestown), handheld devices, and very thin laptops and netbook computers. But there was still a lot of meat for PC enthusiasts. While we didn’t get hands-on, Intel was very public about the 32nm Gulftown six-core CPU arriving as an upgrade sometime next year for owners of existing LGA 1366 systems. Arrandale looks to be a great addition to Intel’s mobile lineup. The company also announced Clarksfield, the quad-core, 45nm laptop version of Nehalem.

Clarkdale on the desktop looks to be one of the best budget CPUs we’ve seen in a long time. While Intel only spoke of the 3.3 GHz version, we’ll likely see lower-clocked versions. Overclocking headroom is unknown at this point, but given the massive Turbo Boost increases we saw, Clarkdale is likely to be overclocking-friendly. But with Turbo Boost dynamically delivering additional performance, you may not need to overclock.

If anything disappointed us at this year’s IDF, it was the anemic showing of Larrabee. Given the downright pathetic nature of the demo Intel was showing, Larrabee looks to be no threat to Nvidia or AMD’s ATI division for some time to come, at least in terms of gaming.

We’re anticipating testing the new Intel processors, both mobile and desktop, as they arrive. And what performance enthusiast wouldn’t look forward to six cores under the hood?

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